November 8, 2002

Referendum or bust

The game now is quite clear. The latest polls suggest the government would lose the consultative referendum 60-40 at best, as much as 71-29 by some measures…a political disaster for Chávez. So the government has to go all out to obstruct the referendum, and the opposition needs to do whatever it takes to press for it. That’s the game we’re playing now, and while the political momentum is clearly with the opposition, nothing is improbable here.

The first skirmish went to the opposition, when the Supreme Tribunal refused to rule on a strange petition by Chávez to suspend all the members of the National Elections Council (CNE), which would have made it impossible to hold any kind of vote. It’s really not clear why the Tribunal sided against the prez, and there’s all kinds of speculation about, though the government is taking it as proof that they don’t really own the Supreme Tribunal, like the opposition says. Right.

It’s pretty clear that the government will keep obstructing the vote. PPT has already filed another injunction at the tribunal saying that the proposed question is unconstitutional. The Tribunal’s decision on that case is of utmost importance. The opposition is quite clear that they won’t negotiate away the will of the 2 million people who signed a petition for a vote, and if the government does manage to block it, all bets are off.

The coordinadora democrática is committed to calling an open-ended General Strike if a vote is blocked. In a sense, it’s win-win for the opposition on this score: if there is a vote, Chávez is toast. If he blocks a vote on a technicality, he’ll lose the last shard of democratic legitimacy he might still retain.

There is still the question of the shambolic CNE, universally agreed to be a mess of nepotism and incompetence. Gambling the nation’s future on a referendum means putting ourselves in the hands of these no-hopers. It’s not the best of all possible worlds, but it’s the one we've got.